Planning Applications

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 3:15 pm, 17th November 2020

T5. Mr Irwin asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, who will be aware that farm planning applications are being held up by slow responses from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), whether there is anything that he can do to speed the process up. (AQT 695/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Like a lot of organisations, NIEA has quite a lot of staffing pressures, and COVID has not helped things. Nonetheless, we still have targets that have been set for good for good reason and which we should be seeking to fulfil.

We also have the complication of what we are going to do about ammonia. I have indicated that, at the moment, we should use the 1% threshold, as opposed to the 0ยท1% threshold that the Shared Environmental Services (SES) referred to, while we produced the ammonia strategy, which is almost ready to go out. It is entirely reasonable for us to do that, given that the ammonia strategy is a plan to significantly reduce the amount of ammonia in the atmosphere. Consequently, it would be a better instrument to deal with the issue than planning.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. The Minister will be aware of the seriousness of the situation. Many farms are trying to re-do existing old buildings and re-roof them, but they are being held up by NIEA. I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of the importance of this matter being addressed.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Absolutely. One of the issues that is holding back the farm business investment scheme from being rolled-out further is the ability of people to actually get planning approvals to carry out the investments that they wish to make. The remarkable thing is that, in some instances, the refurbishment or replacement of existing buildings would lead to lower ammonia emissions, yet the planning refusal recommendations still exist. We really do need to have a practical, common-sense approach to this, and as I indicated very clearly, planning is not the means of doing it. Having an ammonia strategy that is effective in reducing the amount of ammonia getting into our atmosphere is the way forward.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have time for a brief question, from Paula Bradley, and a brief answer.